Lottie, Annie, and the Birth of the WMU

black and white photo of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong

Lottie, Annie, and the Birth of the WMU

Lottie, Annie, and the Birth of the WMU

“Oh, that Southern Baptists would wake up to their responsibilities!” ~Lottie Moon

A single female missionary to China, Lottie often declared this in her letters and articles. As she tirelessly served on the mission field, Lottie saw Baptist missionaries suffering from a lack of both resources and workers, and she grew frustrated that 19th-century Baptists didn’t sacrifice nearly enough for the cause of missions. She was especially disturbed as other denominations were sending their best young men and women to the mission fields while many Baptists seemed content to stay home.

The Foreign Mission Board (Now IMB) had been founded in 1845 and was already plagued with deficits, debt, and overwhelming needs. The Board of Domestic Missions (now NAMB) was also founded in 1845, but by the 1870s, both mission boards were in desperate need of more support from Southern Baptists.

Women’s roles were changing all over the country. The advancement of technology and transportation offered more freedom than ever before. The Women’s Suffrage movement was just beginning, and the right-to-vote campaigns were launching, not just for equality’s sake but rather so women could better protect their homes. While some Baptists felt threatened by such changes in the status of women, other Baptist leaders, such as Dr. H.A. Tupper, the Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board and dear, personal friend of Lottie Moon, strongly desired that Southern Baptist women would organize and get more involved.

Aware of these trends -and competitive by nature, Lottie Moon despised that the Presbyterians and Methodists were establishing women’s missions organizations before the Baptists! Partnering with leaders in the States like Annie Armstrong and Fannie Heck, Lottie wielded her pen to inspire the women of the SBC to organize for the cause of giving desperately needed support through the Baptist mission boards.

After years of setbacks, campaigning, and patiently waiting, the National WMU was finally organized in 1888. During the early years, WMU ladies wore lavender at their events. It was not the goal of these lavender-adorned ladies to preach, pastor, or lead churches, as they felt these were decidedly unfeminine roles. They desired to serve the cause of Christ -not despite their femininity, but because of it.

As is often the case, these ladies would face difficulty: conflict amongst one another, including the well-documented disagreement between Fannie Heck and Annie Armstrong, friction between the national and state conventions, difficult conversations surrounding the “Gospel Mission Movement,” and conflicts between SBC entity leaders and WMU leaders. Yet the women did not waver in their commitment. “Go Forward” became their rallying cry, and eventually, their ideas were embraced wholeheartedly by the larger SBC community.

Since 1888, WMU has helped lead Southern Baptist churches across the country to give over $7.5 billion through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The strength of the IMB and NAMB today is because of the ladies in lavender and their belief that no single church can do alone what many churches can do together.

What can these ladies in lavender teach us in 2024?

As it was in the early 19th century, the collective heart of Baptists is the same today: to work together so that we can share the Good News of Jesus Christ with every tribe, nation, and people as our Lord commanded us.

Groups like WMU, NAMB, and IMB are some of the greatest reasons Baptist churches choose to cooperate with one another. When your church gives to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering or the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and through the Cooperative Program, your gifts impact the work of missionaries on the field and help train up new missionaries, leaders, and church planters through our seminaries and colleges.

National WMU has always been, and remains today, fully self-funded. The women never want to detract from the missions giving of churches, so they have never received Cooperative Program funds.  

If Lottie were still alive today, would she say:

“Oh, that Southern Baptists would wake up to their responsibilities!”

She’s not here. Lottie’s work is done, and she has gone home. We are still here, in this place and time, with our struggles and conflicts as we take on the mantle of Christ. Perhaps she would exhort us to continue giving sacrificially, to continue sending our best and brightest young men and women to lost places, and to continue laying our differences aside as necessary so we can work together to share the Good News with the nations. Someone suffered and sacrificed so we could hear the Good News. What will your church sacrifice so that others can hear as well, whether across the street or around the world?

For more information about Lottie Moon and the WMU, you can check out cawmu.org, wmu.com, and Amy Whitfield’s “Lottie Moon: The Girl Who Reached the World” from Lifeway. 

About the Author

Sandra Hughes
President, California Woman's Missionary Union

Sandra Hughes is a mother of five, and the president of the California Woman's Missionary Union. She serves as Children's Ministry Director at Mt. View Baptist Church in Lake Isabella, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Educational Leadership at Gateway Seminary. A former high school English teacher and published poet, Hughes loves to write and to talk, especially about missions. She inherited her love for ministry and for communication from her father and mother, Randy and Carol Bennett.

More About Sandra Hughes
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